Single Parents: Housing & Moving

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  • Single mom- buying property

    (3 replies)

    I'm a single parent  (co-parent with ex) to one young child and  am considering buying a condo/townhome. I neither want nor think I can afford a whole house by myself. I make a low 6 figure income and am about to sell the house which I co-owned with my ex and should have enough for a 15-20% down payment. I'm considering $500K to be my max in terms of purchasing. 

    Honestly, if I could rent forever, I would, but the nagging thought that this is financially unwise for the long-term is a deterrant. I love not having to worry about maintenance issues, upkeep, remodeling, or any other of the sundry issues that go along with property ownership, and this is a big reason why I would want a condo/townhome instead of a SFH. I love the Bay Area, love my job, and plan on staying here for at least the next 20 years, climate control willing/knock on wood. Right now, where I am renting, I am close to work (San Leandro), and everything is convenient. I rent in a good school district (not San Leandro), and I know that buying would likely take my child away from that. Renting just seems so much more convenient, but I know that rents will continue to rise, and I just feel this enormous pressure to buy given that I have a good income and desire to stay in the area long-term.

    Any single parents out there who have bought recently? How has your experience been, financially and mentally, being the sole owner? Appreciate any feedback regarding how owning affected your proximity to good school districts as well. My child has learning disabilities, and I wish to not take a chance with her school being "up and coming" vs rock solid.

    RE: Single mom- buying property ()

    This is the best time to be a renter. Remember California voted in rent control.  That limits rent increases. With covid rents are currently 10 to 20% below market rate.  If you can get into a rental now do it so you can lock in the lower "covid" rate.  Once covid passes your rent will continue to be below market rate for 25 years if not more due to the rent increase caps.  For the next 25 - 30 years you will be paying well below fair market rental rates. 

    RE: Single mom- buying property ()

    Hi, I'm the OP. Thanks for this reassurance. The more I think about it, the more I lean toward not buying. Financially, logistically, and mentally, I feel like trying to buy as opposed to continuing to rent will lead to much more stress for me. Who knows what will happen in the next 20 years anyway? Anyway, thank you for this information. 

    RE: Single mom- buying property ()

    I think you are probably better off renting if you are in a rent controlled situation. The cost to rent is substantially lower than buying in the east bay. If you aren't in a rent controlled place, then it is probably better to buy assuming prices and rents will continue to increase as they have for the past 40 years.

    Twenty years ago I was single (no kids) and couldn't afford to buy a place on my own. I teamed up with a friend and bought a multi-unit property as a tenancy in common. Years later we were able to condo convert. We both wound up marrying (other people), having children and moving to the suburbs. But to this day, that property purchase remains the best investment either of us ever made. Buying with a friend is challenging but if you both have good financial and people skills, it could be just the thing.

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Single mom buying a house, getting cold feet

May 2007

I am finally in a position to buy a house, but am now getting cold feet. I went through nasty divorce and spent many years painstakingly rebuilding my credit. i am now going to be able to get a loan with 95% financing, i have been looking at homes and am excited but worried that i don't have a good understanding of all the expenses involved with owning home. I have three teenage daughters and am self employed. If I put 5% down, I'll still have approx. $12,000 left in savings even if I pay $5,000 in closing costs. I am looking at a purchase price of $650,000. I think what scares me is the thought of a monthly mortgage payment of $3500 to $4000 (inc. taxes etc.) For the last ten years, I have been paying $1900 per month in rent. At the same time it seems to be a buyers market right now and I don't want to miss the opportunity. I want to provide some sort of security for my daughters and want to do the right thing. Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated. Guidance needed

Below is my take on it - but you should probably talk to an accountant for a more accurate picture. Also, if you do a Google search for rent vs buy, there are calculators online to help you with this.

Costs of owning a home for you (very loose estimate): $32500 - downpayment, $3500/month - mortgage ($42000/yr), $8000/ yr - approx prop taxes in Bay Area, plus maintainance and utilities, minus tax breaks (this is the part an accountant could answer)

So give or take $50,000 annually + your downpayment (DP) Costs of renting: $1900/month - $23000/year

Here's the main question for you from my point of view: would your house appreciate enough to make the extra $25,000 a year (plus your DP) you're paying worth it? Or would you be better off renting and saving that extra money? And imagine if you really were able to save $25K a year into a savings or investment account. That's not small potatoes!

The other thing to consider is if the real estate market were to take an even bigger dip. 5% doesn't give you much of a cushion and you could end of owing more than your home is worth. Making your home a liability instead of an asset. Renting might not be a bad idea?

Don't buy the house. If your children are already teen-agers, then you are going to be ready to downsize when the flock leaves the nest at the same time that they are going to be looking to you to help them out with college expenses. Continue renting and sock away the difference between your rental and your 'mortgage' to build up some more savings. Buy a condo in a few years when they go off to college if you really want to get into the homeowners market. jan

Trust your gut if you're getting cold feet. We bought a house for half the price of what you are looking at, and I think our closing costs were about 10k - so if you've been told they'd only be $5k, make sure you read the fine print.

Also, carefully review what type of loan you're getting. Go to to do some calculations. Interest rates are holding steady right now, but with a fixed 30-year loan at 6% (so a loan of $615k or so), I calcuate payments of $3700. Then you should add on about $1k or so for property taxes and home insurance. That's $4700 per month.

Then there's all the upkeep on a house. I remember being surprised by all the work and all the costs associated with owning and maintaining a house.

I think renting at your current rent is still a deal and you could invest the downpayment, and maybe a bit of what you thought you would need to pay on the mortgage, in the stock market or even CDs or a money market...and still provide your children with stablity. anon

I am not surprised that you are getting cold feet. You are thinking about borrowing $600,000+ and you are used to a monthly housing cost under $2,000/month. My concern is that you only have $12,000 in reserve. This suggests to me that you have not been able to save much after paying your rent. Is this correct or have you had outlays that you will not have in the future? How are you going to cover the additional $2,000 each month? Not long from a $12,000 reserve. Maybe you have been paying off other debt. My advice would be to have a larger cushion before you take on this size obligation. If over the next 12 months you can save $2,000 a month and your reserve is up to $35,000 or so then revisit this. Before you buy make sure that you can cover the monthly cash flow required for taxes, insurance and a FIXED RATE MORTGAGE (and have a reserve for maintenance, repairs and other unexpected life events). Don't even consider an adjustable rate mortgage. If this isn't possible then consider a less expensive house that you can afford. Do not enter into this being stressed out with how you are going to make it work. If you do you will pay emotionally, mentally, physically and financially. anon According to the above December 2006 Fortune article Oakland is predicted to be one of the markets to fall farthest in 2007 and 2008. It is expected to drop almost 5% this year, and then drop another 2.5% in 2008. Why not pretend you are paying that $4000/month for the next year and put the $2100 surplus in the bank. Buy in a year or so, and you'll have an extra $25,000 to put toward your down payment. If you can't save that extra $2100/month you'll know that you wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage either. This is not a bad time to be renting. Good Luck wondering whether to buy, too

As a single mom and homeowner, if you are experiencing cold feet, listen to yourself. I have decided to sell b/c though I paid almost 100k less w/20% down, I simply can't afford the house by myself. I have put more than 40k into necessary repairs (roof, foundation, sidewalks etc) and then the is too much for a single person unless you are earning a significant (and I mean SIGNIFICANT) salary. and you must take care in case the market dips further lest you end up owing more...good luck. manto

Please know that it is alright to rent and not own, especially in a market like ours. When the cost of a house eats up most of a normal person's salary, requires you to work long hours and/or more than one job, takes you away from you family, and causes enormous anxiety, it is not worth it. There are so many hidden costs to owning a house, like maintenance and repairs, in addition to the not hidden costs like mortgage, insurance and taxes. If your desire to own a house stems from equity envy, then consider renting, and putting the difference between the rent you pay and the mortgage you would have paid into a savings vehicle that is indexed to the stock market. It is just fine not to own. anon

There's a terrific rent vs. buy calculator on the New York Times website. Here's the URL:

If that link doesn't work, try . Patrick publishes the link on his site.

It's pretty hard to justify purchasing a Bay Area house right now, if one's rationale for buying is a financial one. Renting, and investing the difference, looks much wiser. House shy for now

Thinking about relocating to a more rural place

Jan 2007

I have two young children and a hectic job that doesn't allow me to be present with my kids in the way that I really want and think they need. So I'm thinking of quitting my job, selling my house and relocating to a more rural environment. I'll stay close enough that they can have regular visits with their very loving and involved father.

As I contemplate this move, which is so out of character for me (being very grounded in the East Bay) I am wondering if any of you out there have relocated, somewhat blindly, not following a job but rather seeking a different lifestyle and environment? Did you happen to be single with two little kids? I do not know anyone in the area that I'm hoping to move to, but look forward to creating a new community.

Am I crazy? What advice does anyone have for me? I really want to do this, I'm just feeling scared about it and could use any words of wisdom. Thanks. moving soon?

I'm not single, but did relocate last year to Gilroy, which isn't completely rural (unless you compare it to Berkeley). I wanted a slower pace and got it, but I do miss Berkeley's bookstores. On the other hand, I think the easier pace has let me stand back and give my kids a little more space. They're not on the treadmill, the way I felt we all were in Berkeley. They can ride their bikes for hours and I'm not too worried. It does take a while to make friends so I'm a little worried that you'll be lonely unless you have some relationships set up before you move. Maybe find a mom's group that you can connect with before you take the plunge? been there

Hello single mom out there. I have one child and am absolutely single (wishing there were a loving father to visit). My life is more hectic than is healthy and I am missing nature in a big way as well as some quiet. It has occurred to me to rent my house and try something out somewhere else and I have also thought of selling and buying into a duplex/triplex with other families. The community part is s big one and as single parents we really need it so we can stay conncected to ourselves and our children. I'll be very interested to see what sort of advice you receive. moving soon too?

Yep, just did it. Though, I did have a husband in tow.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I decided that we ''worked to live'' rather than ''lived to work.'' Despite that core philosophy, we still found ourselves living in a place where we were working too much, spending too much time in traffic, etc. So, last April, we formulated a plan to move to a slower pace of life. It took six months to get all of the pieces into place, but here we are.

It is important to look at the 'rural' environment to which you plan to move. For instance, Sebastopol may be easier to deal with than Stockton. Our new home town is about 10,000 people, and is surrounded by open spaces, cows, horses, etc. The population is generally made up of other like minded folks (well educated folks from around the country with broad ideas and a welcoming demeanor). The town is 30 minutes to a major international airport in one direction and the open west in the other. -like smll town life

We lived in San Francisco & Oakland for 15 years and LOVED every single minute of it. Then we had a baby and I wanted to stay home. By the time he was 16 months, we knew we had to get out of there because it is just too expensive to live. My husband worked 14 hour days and we could barely make it so it became quite stressful for all of us.

We moved to a very small town (32,000) in N Washington and have not regretted it at all. There are cows in the fields, really nice people say hello to you on the street, Democratic state with like minded people (we have inter-racial friends, gay friends, etc). We made 100K profit on our 2 bed/2bath 1908 Craftsman house and bought a 4 bed/2bath 1979 house on an 8,000 sq ft lot in town for $150,000. Our school system is one of the top schools in the state.

We are close to Seattle (60 miles) and Canada (45 miles) and we visit each place quite often.

So with all of that, I would suggest that you move to an area with people who have the same beliefs, politics, etc or else you will never have ''real'' friends. You will make friends easily with kids and finally, your kids will adjust and be happier because you are around more. don't regret the move at all

I am a single mother with one child, and I am single, and three years ago I made the decision you are making now. When my child was very small, I could manage to work at nights and take care of him during the day--but when he started to school, I was gone at night and he was gone during the day, and that was clearly not going to go away and not going to work for us. I left everything: my job, house, car, family and friends (though not my connections to all of these)--and the Bay Area, where I have spent most of my life and enjoyed a high standard of living. I moved overseas alone with my child, and although it is often difficult and I often listen to KDFC FM just for their between-pieces recording of the waves lapping in the Bay--I am very, very happy with my decision to relocate. I recommend it. There is really nothing that EVEN the Bay Area has to offer that can compare with the gratitude I feel for time with my child in a place where children are more integrated into the general goings-ons (no babysitters!) and can walk on the streets even very young. I surely miss the Bay Area weather, the food, the cultural intensity, the used bookstores, etc.-- but although my Standard of Living is lower here, I have to say that my Quality of Life is much, much higher. That is not to say that it must be so for everyone, but my/our particular set of circumstances has surely made it so for me/us.

I sometimes ask my child if he would like to go back to the U.S.--if he feels that he is missing out on something--the choice is between all that the Bay Area has that we don't have here--and our time together to cook and go adventuring and handle schoolwork and all that. I just couldn't find a way to have it all over there, not as a single mother, although I hope it's different for others. In any case, my boy has never wanted to give up our time together--he says he'll have plenty of time in his life without me and he'd rather have our time together while we have the choice. Studies show that children often feel that way.

Good luck to you!--there are good things to be had everywhere, and for everything you lose by moving, there will be something new you gain that you can't even imagine now....... Also remember that ''moving away'' isn't what it was 20 years ago-- there are email and phone cards and webcam and skype and so many ways to be in touch--and you can always read here on BPN for a blast of home that touches the heart in all the right places. Relocated; Homesick But Happy

I am a single mom of two- when I became a single mother, one daughter was 2 and the other 6 weeks. I sold my condo in SF and moved to the east bay where I have been renting and working part time ever since. Not as drastic as the move you are describing, but it felt huge to be, having been in the mission for 11 years at the time that I moved. the only advice that I can think of is this: it may be more difficult than you anticipate to create your own new community. I found that staying close enough that I could see my old friends while making some new ones kept me sane. I felt kind of like a fish out of water when I first moved. Not isolated or anything, just unfamiliar with my surroundings. Now, three years later, I still can't believe I am in the east bay some times, but I do not regret my decision to change my financial demands so that I could have my time as my own for my girls. east bay now

Maybe the move will be great, but you're expressing a lot of doubt, which makes me think you ought to take this decision slowly and give it some cool-headed, careful consideration. It might be useful to go see a counselor for a few sessions to try to get clearer about exactly what you hope to achieve with this move and whether those hopes are realistic, to think through all the ways it would affect you, your kids, and their father, some of which are probably not obvious, and to make sure you've considered all possible solutions (e.g., changing jobs without moving, giving the move a trial period, etc.). Good luck! anon

I am a little late in responding to your posting but here goes! When I was married and my daughter was 6 months old we moved out of the Bay Area up to Santa Rosa thinking that the country life was what we wanted. It wasn't, not really. I felt really isolated and lonely. My then-husband worked 12-14 hours a day, left before we woke and came home right before the baby went to sleep. We didn't have much money as I wasn't working then, we lived on the ''other side of the tracks'' (literally).

It wasn't the paradise that I had imagined. I contacted a midwife up there to find other women who had given birth to children around the same time. I finally found a few moms who also wanted to hang out during the day and we formed a little mother's group which I say now saved my life!! We eventually moved back to the BA and divorced. There were times I thought of moving away for a better more calm life but I know that I am basically an urban person and need that stimulation. It was a good learning experience though, and fun at times too. As the years wear on, as they do, I feel that I can't move now (daughter now 15) because of her friends. They are SO important to her now. It might've been easier when she was younger, though I think she has gotten alot from this urban place. We do escape to country-like and beach-type places periodically which satisfies us both for a while.

So, I guess what I would say to you about moving is make sure you know what's important to you and try to find a place that you will fit into. Good luck!! urban momma

Logistics of moving to another state

April 2006

I will be moving this summer for an academic position in another state with my 10 yr. old. I have never had to search for housing while moving (when I moved to the Bay Area, it was into family housing). I will be able to afford to rent a house (not buy) but the schools in the new town vary a lot, so I need to stick within a particular area of town in hopes of getting into one of the better elementary schools. I'm planning a trip to secure housing about a month before the big move. Any advice on how long I'll need to stay to secure a place to live? Will 3 days be enough or do I need to try for a week? Also, any single parents out there with advice on how to deal with logistics when moving - unloading help, that kind of thing? Has anyone used the UHaul links to hired help with good results? Any other tips or advice greatly appreciated. Thanks! about to be tenure track

Since you already know what neighborhoods you want, try to find out what the usual local channels is for finding rentals. Do you join a rental agency, hire a realtor, get a subscription to the local newspaper (or check it online)? My suggestion would be to line up several places to look at ahead of time, and set up appointments with the landlords by phone. If it's a university town, they are used to people coming and going, although they may not hold anything for you either. good luck

I didn't move alone, but maybe our experience will be helpful in any case. My husband and I just moved out of California with our two kids. We found that the three day visit prior to moving was just not enough time to rent a place, mostly because we had not decided on a neighborhood yet so we couldn't really narrow our search. It sounds like you have already decided on a neighborhood, so maybe three days will be enough for you. What we ended up doing was just living in one of those weekly hotels with a mini kitchen and laundry facilities- it was like $150 per week. Within 6 days, we had found a place to rent and moved in. Also what helped was moving our stuff in containers with ABF - Even though our stuff arrived at the freight terminal on Wednesday, it was no problem that we didn't pick it up until Saturday. If we had used a moving company, we would have had to get an address lined up prior to moving, or pay for storage, etc. I would recommend going to to look for advice about moving companies and finding good helpers. It is a fabulous resource. Good luck with your move! Glad to be done with moving

I'm a single mom with a three year and I just moved recently. Mine was only a mile down the street, but even still I can tell you some good advice: Hire some laborers. Anytime, I have to move, I box up as much as I can, go rent a truck, then drive by a Home Depot and there are usually a plethera of daylaborers waiting for someone to need help. I hire two men at $15/hour and take them to the location where they load up everything in an hour. I am usually finished with the truck in four hours or less. I will never move another box myself. It is definitely worth it to get help. Then you have energy to direct your child in helping with smaller stuff, cleaning as you leave etc. Holly

Trouble finding an apartment as a single mom

Oct 2005

Hi, I am a single mom with a 10-mth-old son, and I have been looking for apartments to rent in the east bay, but it has been much harder than I thought. I can only afford a one-bedroom, and it seems like many places that I have looked at have overtly or subtly said that they weren't interested in renting to a mom with a baby. One person said, ''Sorry, we're a childless building.'' I have perfect credit and am financially solvent, and have never had an issue renting an apartment, so it seems to me that the only new factor is my son. Is this illegal? And can anyone give me any suggestions as to how to approach prospective landlords regarding the situation? single mom

I am a single parent, but have not had to hunt for apartments as such, since I was already in my current apartment when I adopted my son. I have read up on the laws though, so I can tell you my (non-expert) understanding.

Yes, it is absolutely illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to you because you have a child. They are allowed to limit the number of people they will rent a unit to, but the limit must be reasonable, and the same for all families. So, a landlord could refuse to rent you a 1 br apartment if they have a one person limit in such apartments, but not if they would rent the same apartment to a childless couple. I recommend calling the rent boards in Berkeley and in Oakland to get more details on your rights, and advice on what to do if you believe you have been discriminated against because of your child.

I'll be interested in hearing what others have to say about this -- I will probably be apartment hunting in another year or so, so I may need the advice too!

Good luck! Diane

Not renting to a single mom with a 10-month old simply because you are single, a mom or have a 10-month old is not legal. If you had applied for some apartments and were turned down for bad credit or poor references or something like that, it would be a different story. But it doesn't sound like this is the case. If anyone blatently says they won't rent to you, file a complaint (see link below).

A complex for ''senior citizens only'' would be the only place you could be excluded legally.

Here's a link to some information:

Two approaches:

- Be totally up front about your situation and eventually you'll find a landlord who is kid friendly. It'll probably be a better situation than if you end up with a less understanding landlord.

- Be not quite up front, yet completely truthful. On the application put down two tenants, but don't voluntarily disclose that one is a 10-month old.

As a real estate broker, I can tell you that what you have described is called familial discrimination. It's against the law and you should report them directly to the Fair Employment and Housing with the State of California. I was a landlord for 17 yrs and am still amazed that there are ignorant/discriminatory landlord/property managers out there! Fight Back!

I had a simular problem. What i ended up doing was not saying i had a child, but looking at apartments alone and informing landlords after I'd been offered a place that i had a kid. If they then remove their offer this is illegal. I just left blank the place on applications that asked who would be living there. It worked for me and I'm in a great place. Best of luck to you!

Please note the following is not legal advise and is for informational purposes only:

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to deny rental housing simply because you have a child under 18. There are exceptions for senior citizen housing (perhaps that's what they meant by ''child free building''?).

You can get more information and/or file a complaint with the CA Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Here is a link to more information:

You can find more information about the Fair Housing Act and/or filing a complaint with the US Dept of Housing and Urban Development at

There are also local fair housing organizations that may be able to provide more information. You can get a list of such organizations from the National Fair Housing Alliance

I hope this helps. anon

You are right about it being illegal to be refused an apartment because of your child, but on the other hand you might not want to be in a building that doesn't want children, as they might be unfriendly or complain about child noises, which would, in turn make you uncomfortable. I am also a single mom and have looked and found several apartments since my daughter was born (in fact I've moved TOO many times). I would keep looking and the right place will come up. Get your priorities straight, what you definetely want in a new place, what you can live without. It's really a process of compromising with yourself. I wouldn't bring the baby with you at first, so you can really focus on the place and the landlord. I think I also just mentioned in passing that I have a child, didn't make a big point of it. It's natural so why should it be a big deal? Eventually you will find a nice place for you and your son, it takes a while though. I'm sure you already have tried craig's list, also eHousing is a good place too (look for discount coupon in East Bay Express). Good Luck. settled single mom

Girl, you and me both. When I email landlords and tell them I'm a single mother (great credit, great income) with two toddlers I don't even get a response. As far as the person who told you no children, report immediately to Sentinel Fair Housing in Oakland, they are for all of Alameda COunty. Very nice for the most part. I think part of deal is that Berkeley is so full of students looking for places that landlords simply prefer them.

Only landlords who are prejudice of course. Which is most I've found. I am a homeowner and I'm selling my condo so I'll be renting again in Albany or Berkeley. As a homeowner, I was once going to rent my condo, and I specifically put in my ad ''SINGLE MOTHERS WELCOME'' because I had been discriminated against before and I was so devastated by it. It is really discouraging to think that you are not wanted any longer or somehow considered risky or irresponsible because you are single mother. But the fact is, there are many many people who think being a single mom is really a bad thing. Please report the person who told you that and KEEP SEARCHING. You might try Albany or El Cerrito, they have more families v. are most likely more open to renting to whoever wants the place. Email me, we can discuss further and share notes - since I'll be looking soon too. Anita anita

By someone outright telling you that they are a ''childless building'' you could sue them for housing discrimination. Please call the CA dept. of fair employment and housing and file a complaint. Also if you feel that you are being discriminated against and even if it isn't outright but you suspect this you can call Sentinel Fair Housing in Oakland and they can investigate your claim.(This is NOT ok!) You will find a nice apartment soon if you keep looking. I know as a single mom I found a great apartment and it turned out to be just right. I feel for you , Good luck!

Your message really struck me because I am also a single mom with a son and recently moved into an apartment for both of us. I am disheartened to know that you have been made to feel by landlords that having your child is a hindrance to your qualifications as a tenant. My understanding is that is illegal for landlords to discriminate on that issue. When I was apartment hunting, I would tell the landlords that I have a child and ask if it was a problem. Each one said no and that it's illegal for it to be. Check it out with the the Housing Agency in your county and report each incidence. My understanding is that landlords can deny or approve rental based on credit history, rental history, employment, and pets, but not on race, gender, or family type (kids or no kids). On the other hand, I also know that there are inherent subtlties when it comes to picking a renter, like if you're a college student or young adult, there may be concerns about paying the rent on time or partying or being too loud. Perhaps the concern they have with your child is of the noise. In certain rentals (like some of the duplexes here in Berkeley), the potential noise level would be considered a valid concern. But, that said, according to my co-worker who is also a landlord, (and I quote) ''what you were told about not renting to you because it's a childless building is highly illegal and you could nail that landlord to the wall for discrimination''. If you would like to chat more about this, feel free to email me at maritelb [at] happy to be single mom

Even though I am not surprised, I'm upset that someone's tell you that they are a ''childless building.'' There are enough of the usual issues without that adding to your list. And yes, it's totally illegal and you can report them to the rent board, unless it's slotted as an official senior or adult community.

As an owner of rental properties (my husband usually handles selecting tenants, but I sometimes do as well) I can tell you that we tend to rent to people who we think won't require a lot of our time or need a lot of ''hand-holding.'' Of course, we realize that the very needy person can be a man, woman, single, couple, with or w/ out kids. We just try to figure it out when meeting the potential individual. My guess is that you are being classified as a ''high needs'' person due to your baby. My suggestion is to apply to places that may be smaller (duplex or 4-6plex for example) where the owner or an individual person is renting the unit - not one of those places where you get someone who sifts through rental applications all day as their job. And when you meet the owner/manager, make sure you get the message across that you are a strong, independent, capable mother who respects the need for everyone to have a nice living environment.

Two incidentals: We just rented a duplex unit to a singer mother last weekend (we chose her over a couple w/ no kid.) And, I'm not knocking property management companies (that's my husband's business) but I think that some of those big ones are very impersonal. Anon

Yes. it is illegal. I went through a pretty much identical time when my daughter was just under a year old. It was very hard & saddening. I was told that you can report people to the renter's board, that it is just as illegal as choosing by color of skin. I never reported anyone, but I was encouraged to by others. I'm sorry. All I can tell you is after about a terrible month of being, as you say, condemned for being a single mom, I finally found a great little house and am here still. Craigslist ended out being the best answer for me, but perhaps someone will read this that can help you. There are people out there who will treat you kindly, they're just hard to find. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know. Johnna

HI, I am the parent of twin 8 mo. girls and am a real estate agent and apt. manager. It is very illegal not to rent to a person with children, unless the building has a special federal section for housing for seniors only. There are some avenues you could pursue if you wanted. Just email back I will be glad to give you some places to go. Also, I happen to have a large 1 bedroom at Lake Merritt and would be happy to show it to you. The onsight manager is a mother herself. The apt. is $900 and one is coming up for $895. I hope I can help out. Lin

YES, it most certainly IS illegal for a landlord to discriminate against you because you have a child. They cannot HAVE a ''childless'' building, and you can file a suit against a landlord that will not rent to you because you have a child. I recommend that you start by ontacting the rent board(s) for what ever city/ cities the apartments in question were located and let them know about this! Best of luck Anon

Yes, this is illegal. Fair housing law protects people from discrimination based upon family or marital status. Nonetheless, this is unfortunately still one of the most common forms of housing discrimination in the East Bay. Contact Sentinel Fair Housing in Oakland for information on your rights and strategies for coping with landlords in your housing search. Good luck! Kathy

I am sure that this is not legal, but I am not a lawyer. I am writing to tell you that I had a very similar experience in January of 2004 when I was looking for a one bedroom for myself and my two little girls. I found my place through Wellington Properties 510-338-0588 in Oakland. Everyone who I dealt with there was very nice and helpful. I actually looked at one place and the person who was showing it to me said ''is this for the three of you? this is too small, we have one that is bigger and has a yard'' and he brought me to the other apartment. I can't remember his last name, but his first name was Randy. Good luck to you and I hope this helps another single mom

I was disappointed by callous landlords a couple of times when I started looking for an apartment with my toddler. I eventually found out that a lot of landlords are delighted to rent to single mothers because we don't keep outrageous hours, we are very dependable when it comes to keeping an eye on the property and we actually care about the upkeep of the outdoor space as a play area. You might try these selling points. My landlords have considered me a cornerstone. Berkeley Mom

Hello, You didn't say (or I don't recall) if you were looking in Berkely (which I beleive has rent control) or another east bay city where rent control isn't a factor. It is ILLEGAL in the State of California to descriminate against families with children. In Alameda where I live (and other local cities too I assume), it's a rental market and appartments have gone vacant for weeks/months so landlords have been lowering rents or not raising rents when they have good tennants. If you are able to look outside of Berkeley, I would try that. If that isn't an option, I would 1) go with a rental agency (you are less likely to get discriminated against by a landlord). If paying the rental fee is a factor (usually 1/3 of 1st month's rent), all local agencies have listings where the fee is paid by the landlord (not many but some). 2) Carry a voice activated micro tape recorder when you go look at appartments that way you have proof should you need it that you are being discrimated against.

That said, do you really want to live in a building that doesn't have children living there already? Your child is only 10 months now but there will come a time when s/he will want to play with other kids and it's handy to have kids in the building around the same age to be able to play in each other's rooms or outside (under adult supervision of course). Best of luck in your new home search, Laura

Single parent buying first house - need education!

June 2005

I am a single mother and I decided to buy a home (I don't know where). I can't ask my friends for help because most of them are international visitors, and somehow I am embarrassed of asking my American friends. I have good credit history and as my son is more independent, I can get another part time job. I want to start educating myself (I am reading ''Homebuyers for Dummies''), but I want to know if there is any non-profit organizations that help first time owners, and more especifically for women (I kind of feel intimidated by men posing questions...). I do not want to take classes at adult schools. Any insights appreciated! Nina

Hey Nina, We just bought our first place and felt totally adrift. Truthfully, the best info that I got was from other people who had bought homes. It was very hard for me to find impartial, helpful info that was not a sales pitch. The books are great for helping to understand different financing stretegies, but I found it overwhelming and not as clear about the whole process as it could be. If you would like to bounce some questions off of me, I would be happy to help. ave

Karen Ward, who is a mortgage broker on Solano in Albany, holds free 2-hour workshops every month for first-time homebuyers and women buying homes for the first time. I haven't attended one, but as a first-time homebuyer she helped me through every step of the process, patiently explained everyhting, and never made me feel stupid. Check out her website at or call her at 510.559.4000. The Dummies books can help with basic info, but the real estate market here is so different that it's good to talk to someone who knows it. Good luck! Cathy G

Can a single parent with modest income buy a house?

Jan 2002

My landlady has just given me the awful news that she is going to sell the house my daughters and I have lived in for almost nine years. Besides putting a message on the Household services part of this listserve & signing up for the UC Staff/Faculty Housing Service, is there anything else I can do to find a new place? We currently live in El Cerrito near the Albany border, in a small 3 bedroom house with very reasonable rent & would like to stay in the same area. How can I make this situation easier on my kids (7 & 11)? They don't remember living anywhere else. I'm trying to protect them from my own anxieties, but I have this sinking feeling that our quality of life is about to go down, that whatever we find will be smaller or more expensive or farther from work/school or in a less pleasant neighborhood, or all of the above! I'm so fed up with being at the mercy of landlords that I'm wondering if there is any way a single parent with a modest income can actually buy a house or condo. How do people with almost no savings come up with a down payment? How can I find out how much of a mortgage I could qualify for? Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

The answer is yes! With some research on how the process works and the right agent, you will make it happen, although perhaps not as soon as you may need to move. See if you can negotiate with the new owner for more time if you plan on more than an interim move.

In my experience, more important than the amount of money you have for a down payment is how your credit looks. Good to excellent credit gives you more financing options which almost always means less money out of your pocket. There are indeed legitimate financing programs that require as little as 3% down, but I cannot emphasize enough how good credit goes a long way to get this. Look specifically for loan programs that cater to low to moderate income buyers or are aimed at targeting redevelopment areas. Programs like this are found both through lenders as well as through government agencies. Keep an open mind about the area. Neighborhoods that may seem borderline now are slowly being turned around by people just like you and me. Even though you may not consider Oakland as an option (where we happily live) they have an example of a program like I described:

FHA and Fannie Mae are other resources:

I know you want to keep as much of this away from your kids as possible, but minus the stress element, it could prove to be a wonderful learning opportunity for them as well as you and a lot of fun looking at homes together.

Have hope! will

I used to work for the City of Emeryville, and the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency has a first time homebuyer's program that offers 0 or very low down payment loans for people who qualify for the income guidelines. You have to buy in Emeryville to take advantage of the program. All redevelopment agencies are required by state law to devote a certain percentage of their tax increment financing to affordable housing so they are a good place to start. I believe that El Cerrito has a redevelopment agency, as does Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland. You should check with the Cities and their Redevelopment Agencies that you are interested in and see if they offer the same kind of program. Also, they will know if there are private housing developments in the city that offer similar kinds of programs. Good luck. Theresa

We bought our house in 1997 for less than $10,000 cash for the down payment and closing costs. We patched together the money with a $2,000 grant from a bank that needed to fulfill it's community lending requirements (mortgage brokers know about these things), a $600 rebate from a credit card for letting them make the referral to the realtor (check your credit card mailings for special offers), $3,000 gifted from our parents, $250 from a garage sale, and the rest from our meager savings. I did not believe that it could be done, and yet it happened.

There are Alameda County mortgage assistance programs for modest income people. There are also some city programs. I know Emeryville has one to help moderate income families buy houses. And there are homeownership affordable housing developments done sometimes by cities and sometimes by non-profit developers. You'd have to ferret out the opportunities and I'm not sure how to do that, but you could ask someone at the Northern California Land Trust in Berkeley.

Another good step would be to meet with a mortgage broker. They shop for loans for you and it doesn't cost you anything. They can give you a pretty good financial picture. A lot of people like John Riccardi in Berkeley. We used John Assily at the Bank of Walnut Creek.

In short, I believe it can be done if you can put together a patchwork of sources.

Also, are you sure that your landlord can ask you to leave? Call Sentinel Fair Housing for information.

Best of luck. I mean that most sincerely. After 12 years of renting, I too was sick of being at the mercy of landlords. It's one of my life goals to never rent again. Anonymous

I just wanted to add my two cents worth...if you do not have a downpayment, you may want to contact the Nehemiah Corporation of California ( for downpayment and financing assistance. Also, talk with your landlord and see if s/he is willing to sell to you on a lease-to-own basis. What this does is allow a percentage or set amount of your rent payments to apply toward a down. You may want to check out a book on lease-to-own (try Berkeley Public or Oakland Public for any Nolo Press or Consumer Reports books on homeownership). Also, you may want to consider moving to another area such as Oakland where the city offers mortgage assistance programs. A couple of years ago the city of Oakland offerred first and second mortgage assistance for the purchase of a home in areas designated as redevelopment zones. Such areas should include downtown Oakland as well as the Embarcadero area where plans are in place to develop 'mixed use' housing (i.e., townhouses with cafes and shops on the ground floor). With some grunt work and research, I think you find you are able to buy a house that will suite your needs. Good luck! anonymous